The Dying Mother

It took a long time
For mother to die.

Everyone believed
She would go first,

With dad,
The last dirty-old-man,
Playing the field
Since he loved women.

Mother wore out the pages in her
Medical encyclopedia
To speed things up
On the highway
Of exotic diseases.

Before turning forty,
She had a hysterectomy
When cancer cells multiplied.

That didn’t help
Her state of mind.

Soon after that first surgery,
She left the Catholic Church
Becoming a Jehovah Witness
Getting ready to join God
Since death was eminent,
A heartbeat away.

After forty, a malignant tumor
The size of a grapefruit
Recruited an army in one her kidneys;
Like the Battle of the Bulge
During WWII,
That nasty Nazi,
A Hitler in disguise,
Was surrounded
And cut off from the rest of her body.
A rare encapsulated,
Parasitical alien life form without a visa
That the City of Hope’s doctors
Exorcised.

After Lola’s fiftieth, she asked
Her three children
What we wanted
From the house
Since death was close and
Father would outlive her to marry again.
I said, “I don’t want to talk about death.
Let’s take one day at a time
And enjoy what remains.”

My older sister and brother
Made out lists
Carting valuables home
Like picking flesh from
The carcass
While two hearts
Were still beating.

My dad died at seventy-nine
With a sour expression on his face
As he gasped his last.
The doctor told him,
“You quit smoking ten years too late.”
He was younger than her.

My brother took
Dad’s tools and the beloved Cadillac
Leaving it wrecked
Beside a road.

She cried a river of tears
After fifty-four years of marriage.
She missed dad.
I missed him too.
He was the quiet one
That listened.

Loneliness settled
Around mother like
A hot summer day
When it hurts to breathe
The scorched air
As one friend
After another
Left this earth
While she lived in that house
Alone in the desert
With her Bible
And five acres
Surrounded by a chain link fence
And sage brush
Two hundred miles from
My condo and job.

She told me once,
“In the mornings
Before I get out of bed
In this silent,
Empty house,
I forget how old I am.
I think I’m fourteen again,
But the mirror
Does not lie
And God
Is always nearby.”

At eighty-nine, cancer
Arrived one last time.
There was surgery
Removing the bleeding
Tumor in her intestines.
Mother lingered for
Two painful weeks
Screaming in agony,
Praying for an end to her story.

The call came during my
Fifth period English class
With students reading
The dramatic, tragic death scene
From Romeo and Juliet.

That day spelled an end
To more than one love story.
Sometimes death is a blessing.

I never told my students.
Let them find out
For themselves.
It’s better that way.

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